Feeding frenzy with a 3-year-old

June 27, 1994|By KEVIN COWHERD

Eating in a restaurant with a 3-year-old is always a harrowing experience and can be survived only if the proper security precautions are taken:

Immediately upon being seated, remove all objects that can be thrown at other diners.

Remove the salt and pepper shakers. Remove the sugar and Sweet 'N Low. Remove the napkin holder, which, in terms of damage potential, is like a bowling ball and can lead to nasty lawsuits.

Once the perimeter of the table is secure, leap to your feet and signal the nearest waiter.

If there is no waiter nearby, go to wherever you see a waiter working, yank the waiter by the arm and drag him back to your table.

Yes, he will be a little put off by this. But this is no time for niceties. You're dining with a 3-year-old. Time is of the essence.

Now, then. In a calm voice, ask the waiter to bring you some Saltine crackers.

If the waiter says: "Gee, I'm not sure we have any," grab him by the collar, pull him down to eye level, and say: "Mister, I don't think you understand what we're dealing with here. This kid is a ticking time bomb.

"Not only is he hungry, he also missed his nap. Which means he'll be meaner than a Texas rattler if we don't get something in his stomach in the next 10 seconds."

When the waiter returns with the Saltine crackers, open 10 or so packets and put them in front of the child.

Then say to the waiter: "OK, we're ready to order."

If the waiter says: "But you haven't even looked at the menu!" grab him by the collar again.

Then explain to him that, when dining with a 3-year-old, there is no time for menus.

Explain that you're dealing with a 20-minute window of opportunity here, during which the 3-year-old might possibly behave enough to let everyone devour their meals and pay the check.

Explain that after 20 minutes or so, the child's eyes will begin to glow and his head will begin spinning 360 degrees and he will become another Damien, an unholy terror who will bang his fists on the table and hurl his silverware to the floor and do God knows what else.

Then tell the waiter: "Forget the menus, OK? Two club sandwiches for my wife and me, a grilled cheese for the boy. As for beverages, we need two beers, pronto. Bring whatever you want for the boy -- it's just gonna end up on the floor, anyway."

OK, the waiter has taken your order. Hopefully, he has also brought your beers, which you will need to get through this.

Unfortunately, the food will not be here for at least 10 minutes. Don't panic. Keep feeding the 3-year-old Saltines. When he begins to get restless, play a game such as "I See the Color." Or have him name the state capitals.

Sure, this might be a bit much for a 3-year-old, especially if he gets off on the wrong foot by naming Dallas as the capital of Texas.

But instead of rolling your eyes and saying: "No, no, Austin!" just be patient and . . . look, I don't care what you play. Just play something, damn it.

(Note: Under no circumstances should you, as a parent, suggest that the child sing to keep occupied. Because in all probability, he will pick "Bingo Was His Name-O," the most irritating children's song in history and one that will have the restaurant empty as if someone lobbed a hand grenade in the door. That's just not fair to the owners.)

OK, the food has arrived. A few tips: Eat quickly. If you have to chew your food, fine, go ahead, although swallowing your food whole is the way to go here.

Never, ever allow the child to operate the ketchup bottle, no matter how much he pleads. If you do, his food will soon be covered in a puddle of red goo the size of Lake Erie, after which he will whine: "Well, I can't eat this now! It's ruined!'

At some point in the next few minutes, the 3-year-old will put down his food and announce he's "not hungry anymore."

Metaphorically, this is like a bell tolling: the meal is now officially over. Any minute now, the child will attempt a forward somersault onto the table, or cause a scene in some other way.

Quick, there's no time to lose. Swallow whatever is left on your plate. Pay the check. Leave.

If the child asks for dessert, say you'll stop for ice cream on the way home.

Of course, this is a lie.

But he's young, he'll get over it.

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